Puyallup Tribe and volunteers team up for Earth Day cleanup and clam bake

By Ernest A. Jasmin, Puyallup Tribal News Editor

Environmentally minded people descended on the Canoe Landing Site dxʷłalilali on Marine View Drive on Saturday to help the Puyallup Tribe celebrate Earth Day with a beach cleanup and clam bake.

More than a hundred revelers attended this year’s event, making it visibly bigger than last year’s. Cultural Center Assistant Director Clint McCloud delivered an opening prayer, followed by opening remarks from members of Puyallup Tribal Council, who each offered their unique perspectives on the ongoing climate crisis. (See excerpts at the end of this story.)

“It is Mother Earth Day, and we’re in trouble,” Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud warned. “Somehow, even with all the talk about the environment, there’s more coal being pumped into the air. There’s more water being polluted by who knows what chemicals. So, it’s time to assess where we’re at and where each one of us is in this battle. You have got to be more involved.”

The charred ruins of the Kodiak Enterprise were docked nearby, providing the perfect backdrop for highlighting environmental destruction. The seafood processing vessel, which is owned by Trident Seafoods, caught fire on April 8. The Puyallup Tribe joined a unified command made up of the U.S. Coast Guard, Tacoma Fire Department and other agencies to respond.

It took several days to extinguish the blaze, raising concerns that the Kodiak could rupture, releasing 55,000 gallons of diesel fuel and other contaminants into Hylebos Waterway.

Chairman Sterud spoke directly about the area’s long history of environmental damage. “Looking around here, I see a Superfund site over there, and there’s a ship that was on fire that couldn’t be put out for two weeks,” he said. “It’s all real stuff that’s going to take work by citizens groups, by Tribal groups. I believe that we can do better, and we must do better.”

Tribal Councilwoman Annette Bryan lives near the site of the Kodiak blaze, and she recalled being advised to stay indoors to avoid breathing toxic fumes.

“It was very scary,” she recalled as she and her son combed the beach, picking up trash. “We were told that, had it exploded, it would have put more contaminants into the environment than the City of Tacoma would have in the whole year.”

Bryan said the Tribe is committed to working with local agencies to improve the response time to such emergencies. “I think the company (Trident) needs to be held responsible for having better safety measures in place and making sure that they notify the surrounding area in a better way,” she said. 

Intertribal Canoe Journey Green Team organizer Bridget Ray, Matt Booth of Washington State University’s Energy Program and fellow WSU environmentalist Stephanie Blair also spoke to event attendees about their organizations, offering tips fighting climate change and pollution.

Communities for a Healthy Bay, Second Use and other organizations had booths at Saturday’s event with information on local resources; and South Sound Surfrider Foundation led beach clean-up efforts, amassing a formidable pile of garbage in the time it would take to have brunch. There were old tires, plastic tarps, bottles, cans, snack food wrappers, discarded cigarette butts and even a mangled steel strip that appeared to have come from a ship’s hull.

“This is a really great event,” Bryan said. “We’re finding all kinds of trash here on the beach. Some of it’s been here for decades, and some of it is fresh from people just coming and leaving it since last year’s clean-up. To me, Earth Day is pretty significant.”

Here are excerpts from Puyallup Tribal Council’s opening remarks at Saturday’s Earth Day event:

Bill Sterud: “Somehow, even with all the talk about the environment, there’s more coal being pumped into the air. There’s more water being polluted by who knows what chemicals. So, it’s time to assess where we’re at and where each one of us is in this battle. You have got to be more involved.”

Sylvia Miller: “The Puyallup people have always been generous people, and I’ll tell you what. We do our best to make sure we preserve and protect these lands that have been gifted to us from the Creator; these waters, these mountains, all of it our four-legged friends and all of it our air friends. It’s really important that each and every one of you know that they’re there for a reason.

James “Jim Jim” Rideout: “I raised all my children on this water. They know every species in every area, from Chambers (Bay) to Fox Island — everywhere out here. My children know the changes that have happened in our lifetime, and they’re concerned about what’s going to return for the next generation.

Anna Bean: “The housing market is crazy here in the Northwest, and that is (due to) water sources drying up in other areas and folks are moving up to the Pacific Northwest. And if you haven’t noticed, like there are communities being placed up everywhere. Trees are getting knocked down our air, our water and everything are being affected by the population, and it’s just a really sad situation. People who’ve lived here their whole entire lives are waiting to get homes or having to fight against folks from other states in order to even live where we’ve grown up. So, that’s a very scary thing.”

Annette Bryan: “In 2018, we hosted our first canoe landing here, and the site’s very sacred. So, every time we dance and sing on it, I know the ancestors are with us, and we’re standing on the foundation and they left for us.”

Monica Miller: “It’s very important for us, this generation, to take care of (the environment) and teach the next generations. We need to make sure that our environment is clean and keep spreading the information to everybody.